One of the most frustrating experiences you can face as a creative person is when your inspiration takes a spontaneous sabbatical, leaving you staring at a blank page, pencil hovering over the paper, with zero ideas in your head. I myself have been there plenty of times… in fact, as I write this, I’m battling an especially persistent creative slump that’s been plaguing me for about two weeks now.
Almost as frustrating is the reaction you get from non-creatives, who seem to think that inspiration is something you can call upon at will, or turn on and off like a light switch. In reality, it’s a bit more like the gasoline you use to fuel your creative car: and when there’s no gas, there’s no art. Even worse, it can happen without warning… you go to get in your car in the morning, knowing you had a full tank yesterday, only to find the needle resting stubbornly on “E”!
In an effort to cure my own artist’s block, I’ve compiled a list of ways to fight those inspirational dead-ends, in the hopes that it’ll help other creatives who find themselves in the same predicament.
1. Draw from life instead of from your imagination
One of the symptoms of creative block is simply being unable to come up with any concepts or ideas for an art piece. It’s not that you don’t want to make art or don’t know how to, it’s that you’re stalled out before you even begin. Not knowing where to start can be enough to discourage any artist from even opening their sketchbook, but the best way to kickstart your brain is to make art in spite of your creative block.
Easier said than done, right? Luckily, the world around you is full of subject matter! Pick anything: your desk, your backyard, your dog, even your art supplies. You could even grab a mirror and draw yourself! It doesn’t have to be realistic, either; in fact, experimenting with different drawing styles is a great way to get yourself to loosen up and explore your own style.
If you’re feeling uninspired by the room you’re in, there are lots of websites that will generate photos for you to work from. Looking to brush up on your anatomy? Try SketchDaily, a life model archive that has a wide variety of models, poses, and angles to choose from (some of the models are nude, but you can toggle between clothed and nude models in one of the dropdown menus). If you’d rather use a site that’s safe for work, try this random image generator instead – it will load a completely random, safe-for-all-ages photo every time you click the “New Image” button.
2. Create fanart
Allow me to let you in on a little secret: not all art has to be original! There is nothing lazy, shameful, or childish about making fanart or fanfiction, especially when you’re feeling uninspired. Making any art is better than making no art at all, and it’s worth remembering that tons of professional artists create fanart of the things they love, too. If you’ve got a favorite movie, book, or tv series, don’t be afraid to use it as a starting point! Plus, making and sharing fanart can be an excellent way to get your art seen by more people online, and more eyes on your art is rarely a bad thing.
3. Follow some art tutorials
Whether you’re learning something new or just trying to hone the skills you already have, sometimes using a guide or tutorial can give you ideas on what artistic endeavor you’d like to pursue next. Want to learn how to make pixel art, or how to draw with Copic markers and colored pencils? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to know how to use bokeh in your photography, but just haven’t gotten around to learning the technique. There are tutorials out there for just about everything, which means that the opportunities to expand your artistic knowledge are pretty much endless! It’s never a bad idea to learn new skills relevant to your passion, and having that know-how under your belt is a great way to open up your options when coming up with ideas for new projects.
If you’re ready to start learning and experimenting, you can search for specific tutorials through Google, or you can click here to browse my “Art Tips and Tutorials” Pinterest board, which is chock full of resources for both traditional and digital artists.
4. Use a prompt generator
Maybe life drawing and fanart aren’t for you, but you’re still struggling to come up with ideas. You might have better luck using a prompt generator! These generators are all over the internet, and their sole purpose is to generate random words and phrases to serve as inspiration for both artists and writers. You can find lots of them through a quick Google search, but here’s a list of some of my favorites:
• ArtPrompts – clicking on one of the categories will generate a random prompt for a character, creature, environment, object, or situation
• The Writer’s Den – a site for writers that generates plot ideas, character names, locations, and even the first line of a story
• Fantasy Art Concept Generator – a fantasy-themed generator that will randomly come up with characters, creatures, and places
• Random Art Prompt Generator – generates between one and ten prompts at a time that can be either simple or elaborate
5. Try doing a thirty-day challenge
For those with creative block, making even one piece of art seems daunting enough… so making thirty probably sounds downright impossible to some of you! But I promise, it’s not quite that scary. A thirty-day challenge is really just a list of thirty prompts, the idea being that you’ll be making something that relates to each prompt every day for thirty days. The likelihood that you’ll end up with thirty terrible drawings at the end of the challenge is actually pretty low, and I can almost guarantee you that, by day thirty, you’ll have come up with at least a few pieces that you’re genuinely happy with!
However, you shouldn’t feel too pressured if you can’t do this for the entire month – this is just an exercise meant to get your creative juices flowing on a daily basis. The good news is, there are tons of different challenges out there for all kinds of creative types! They’re easy enough to find through Google, or you can check out my “Thirty Day Challenges” Pinterest board for artists and writers by clicking here.
6. Fill in a coloring book
Adult coloring books are more popular now than ever before, and with good reason. Featuring everything from intricate designs and patterns to rude phrases and swear words, it’s safe to say that there’s a coloring book out there for just about anybody and everybody. While it might seem counterintuitive for an artist to sit down with one of these books when they could be making art of their own, a coloring book takes away the pressure of creating original art and lets you skip right to the fun part: adding color! Not only do these books let you get creative with traditional materials like crayons, markers, and pencils, but using them has been proven to help you relax, too. I’d personally recommend checking out Dover’s Creative Haven series if you’re looking for some detailed, high-quality coloring books… you should be able to find them on Amazon and at Michaels craft stores.
7. Look at other artists’ work for inspiration
Art isn’t created in a vacuum, you know! Looking at other artists’ portfolios can inspire your own work in many ways… maybe you like the way one artist utilizes vivid complementary color palettes, or the way another draws in a loose, flowing style. While any halfway-decent art teacher will be quick to warn you about the very real dangers of plagiarism, don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be influenced by other artists.
More importantly, study what it is that you like about an artist’s work: is it the palettes they use? Their attention to detail? The composition? The line work? Make a list of these qualities and think of how they – rather than the artwork as a whole – might inspire you to try new things with your own style. As long as you’re not copying someone else’s art, remember that it’s okay to use elements of their work as inspiration for artwork of your own!
8. Make art in a style or medium you’ve never used before
Although it may take you outside of your comfort zone, utilizing a new art style or medium will force your brain to approach the creative process from a different angle. But don’t worry too much about being “good” at it – the point of this exercise is to stretch your creative boundaries and try new things, so don’t take it too seriously, and don’t be afraid to get ambitious! Dabble in surrealism. Experiment with painting on wood panels instead of paper or canvas. Try your hand at art nouveau. Take up photography for the weekend. Make a collage. If you can imagine it, try it!
What matters most is that you’re challenging yourself to slow down and think about your process by trying something new, and as long as you’re doing that, there’s really no “wrong” way to tackle this exercise. The worst case scenario is that you end up trying a style or medium that you don’t like, in which case: congratulations! Now you know for sure what kind of art you don’t want to make. It’s not a failure if you’ve learned something from the experience, so if nothing else, think of this endeavor as a way of figuring out what you like and don’t like when it comes to making art.
9. Watch a documentary
I’ve often found that one of the best and most enriching ways to get inspired is to learn, and that an easy way to do this is by watching documentaries! The more you learn about the world around you, the more knowledge you’ll have to draw upon when it comes time to generate and execute your ideas. Plus, documentaries make for great visual and audial background noise while you’re brainstorming and sketching, and since there’s typically not much in the way of linear plot, you can concentrate a bit more on working without missing too much.
Of course, there are about as many documentaries out there as there is subject matter, but if you’re suffering from creative block, I’d highly recommend watching something that focuses on nature or science, as these topics are generally accompanied by strong concepts and visuals and, therefore, provide you with lots of opportunities to get inspired by what you see onscreen. To reference my advice from the first entry on this list: if you’ve got creative block, stepping back and taking a look at the world around you can be a good way to get yourself motivated!
If you’re not sure what to start watching, here’s a list of some of my favorite documentaries to turn on when I’m trying to brainstorm ideas:
• Planet Earth/Planet Earth II (2006/2016) – both Planet Earth and its sequel series, Planet Earth II, document the natural history of our planet and the wildlife that inhabits it
• Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014) – hosted by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, this docuseries explores the history of the universe and our relationship with the cosmos
• Particle Fever (2013) – this documentary details the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, as well as how scientists hope that the Large Hadron Collider could help us discover the origins of our universe
• The Blue Planet (2001) – an oldie but a goodie… this series examines all kinds of marine life by taking viewers on a journey from the coasts, to the poles, to the ocean floor
• Life (2009) – a series that profiles the different kinds of life on Earth, from reptiles and amphibians to plants, insects, birds, and more
• Rise of Animals: Triumph of the Vertebrates (2013) – this series shows how vertebrate creatures evolved to become one of the most successful species on our planet
• Human Planet (2011) – a docuseries that examines humankind’s relationship with nature, and how people have adapted to live in all of Earth’s environments
10. Go to the library
Visiting your local library is not only free, but it offers you a break from your usual workspace and is an excellent place to find resources and reference materials. Sometimes just changing your environment can help snap you out of a creative rut, whether you’re using the opportunity to do research or just escape with a good book for a little while. You’ll need a library card to check out materials, but not to browse or read, so find a quiet corner, put in your ear buds, and zone out!
11. Remake an old piece
Sometimes, looking back at your old work is more than a little embarrassing. Seeing nothing but mistakes in something you knew you were proud of only a few years ago can be a cringeworthy experience! So, why revisit your old stuff at all? What’s to be gained?
The answer to this one is actually pretty simple: perspective. Chances are, if you’re feeling embarrassed when you look at a piece that’s five years old, it’s because you know you’ve made better art since then, and now that you’ve become a more experienced artist, the flaws in your older work have gone from being barely noticeable to blindingly obvious. But here’s the thing… unless you’ve already mastered all there is to learn about your craft, there’s a really good chance that, someday, you’re going to be feeling the same way about the art you’re making right now!
Now, don’t get me wrong; this exercise isn’t supposed to be some elaborate excuse for you to bash your old art. The goal here isn’t to hate on art we used to be proud of, it’s to attempt to execute the same concepts more successfully by using the skills we’ve acquired in the meantime. Instead of getting embarrassed over your old art, use it to focus on how far you’ve come as an artist, and how you’ve improved in ways that would have amazed your past self. When you’re done, a side-by-side comparison will give you an idea of how much you’ve grown as an artist over the years, which can be a great confidence booster when you’re feeling uninspired!
12. Take a break
Creative block feels bad because we’re not… well… creating anything. As artists, we often find ourselves making things out of obligation, whether it’s an assignment for school or work, a commissioned piece, or a submission to a contest, but let’s be real: creating makes us feel good, too. It’s part of who we are, and why we do what we do! There is a special kind of fulfillment you get when you create something, no matter what kind of art you make.
Sometimes, creative block can happen after we’ve been pushing ourselves on a project – or, in many cases, on multiple projects at once – nonstop for days, weeks, or even months at a time… and that’s totally normal! Sometimes, we experience lulls in productivity before we’re able to give it 100% again. Sometimes, creative block is just a way our brains are using to tell us “I need a break!” And sometimes, you just need to put down the pencil and walk away. Beating your head against a blank page won’t make you feel more inspired, it’ll make you feel more frustrated that you aren’t making progress.
So, go easy on yourself. Don’t forget to take breaks from your work when you need to decompress, and remember that creative block doesn’t last forever… even if it feels like it might!
What are some of the things you’ve done to fight creative block? Let me know in the comments below. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to hit the follow button to keep up with more content like this!